In December 1966, Kathleen Brooks purchased her first Volkswagen Beetle in Riverside, California, a car that she affectionately named ‘Annie.’ Through thick and thin, the red Bug has been Brooks’ daily form of transport, racking up over 563,270 km in mileage over 51 years, which is enough to circle the globe 14 times.

Unfortunately, time has taken its toll on the little Beetle, but despite its lacklustre condition, the car still continued to bring Brooks, who is now 73 years old, to work and back. As part of her occupation Brooks, a three-time breast cancer survivor, works with breast-cancer patients and survivors to provide comfort and cosmetic care during treatment and recovery.

This special relationship between car and owner was enough to attract the attention of Volkswagen’s North American Region, as the company decided to undertake a unique project – restoring Annie.

As part of the process, Annie left her home in Riverside and headed to the North American home of the Beetle at Volkswagen’s plant in Puebla, Mexico. Over the course of 11 months, a team of 60 employees and trainees toiled away to bring Brook’s Bug back to factory-quality specifications.

The team had its fair share of issues during the restoration, including a floor pan that has been severely rusted, as well as other niggles involving the car’s suspension, transmission and electrical systems.

According to the team, about 40% of Annie’s parts were replaced, while 357 original pieces were meticulously restored, right down to recreating the stickers that Brooks had added to the body and windows of her car over the years.

The car’s body also received a thorough sandblasting and was repaired with a mix of period-correct and updated parts, and then reassembled. Meanwhile, to recapture the red paint of the Beetle when it left the showroom, the team sampled the original shade from inside the glovebox.

Mechanical updates were also part of the restoration, with disc brakes being one of the upgrades. The engine was also completely disassembled, cleaned, updated and rebuilt, while the wiring was completely redone; the transmission rebuilt and suspension upgraded.

As for the interior, it received a more modern AM/FM/Bluetooth stereo designed to mimic the look and feel of original Beetle radios. Along the way, the team also added a few custom touches to celebrate the undying loyalty Brooks’ has for the Volkswagen brand like custom embroidery on the seats that read ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Annie’.

The goal of the project isn’t to create a Beetle destined for the museum, but to bring Annie back to a state where Brooks could driver and enjoy here for many more years to come, says project manager and mechatronics engineer Augusto Zamudio.

Recently, Volkswagen of America reunited Brooks and Annie in Mexico, and the moment has been documented in these photos you see before you. “We often hear stories of dedicated Volkswagen owners, but there was something special about Kathleen and Annie that we felt we needed to honor,” said Derrick Hatami, executive vice president of Sales and Marketing at Volkswagen of America.

“The original Beetle launched our business in the United States. This isn’t just a Beetle, it’s a member of her family, and after all the time our employees have spent with this special vehicle, we feel Annie is a part of our family as well,” he added.

Brooks says for over five decades, Annie was a constant conversation starter with Beetle fans and owners, but also “always there for me.”  “I’ve said many times she and I are so much alike because she’s old, she’s faded, she’s dinged, she’s dented, she’s rusted, but you know what? She keeps running. And as long as I take as good care of her as I can, she’s going to continue to run,” said Brooks.

“When Annie arrived, our team members quickly understood the connection Kathleen had with her car and embraced this project wholeheartedly. Restoring this car posed a number of challenges, but also provided a demonstration of the dedication we put into every Volkswagen we build,” said Steffen Reiche, CEO of Volkswagen of Mexico.

Before departing back to Riverside with Annie, Brooks wrote a heartfelt note to the Puebla team members thanking them for their efforts and asking them to take care of her special car. Zamudio says the feeling is mutual – and the team wrote Brooks back a note of their own. “This was a labor of love for all of us. It was emotional to see Annie go after all the time we have spent working on her, but we are happy Kathleen and her can be reunited,” added Reiche.

This restoration project certainly makes for a heartwarming tale, and we have our share of stories in Malaysia too. Does anyone remember the My Proton Makeover project?